Second Time Around

Dusted off, feeling like a human being again after the end of a relationship, most people go looking for a new relationship. However self-sufficient we are. most of us want to share life with a significant other, particularly I guess when that’s the way we have been used to living. It doesn’t matter how old we are, falling in love is just as heady an experience as it was when we were young. It’s very easy for all to be swept away in that rush of blood to the head and heart. Next step, indeed a natural one, is to want a new start living together

However, for many of the divorced and separated it’s actually not that easy to take that next step. They are no longer solo travellers answerable only to themselves and their new partner. The probability is that there will be children to factor in, often on both sides. We all accumulate baggage as we move through life. Children are however not baggage but people whom we brought into the world, an integral part of who we are.

Often in mediation one of the major issues is the introduction of new partners to the children; when it should happen, how it should happen, indeed often whether it should happen at all. An intention to live with a new partner ramps that all up to a whole different level. Frequently as a mediator I am trying to help couples resolve the position when the introduction, indeed the change of living arrangements, have already happened with no prior warning to the other parent who has found out after the event from the children themselves.

I know from my work that one of the biggest challenges facing a second relationship is how the new couple will treat each other’s children. It causes lots of those relationships to founder. Apart from anything else, that failure leaves children who have already been through one major loss dealing with yet another one. It’s rare for children to maintain contact in such situations with the adult and any other children involved no matter how important they have become. It’s as if the whole of that part of their life can just be erased.

There is little that I have seen to help parents with this whole question of balancing their natural wish for a second chance with what their children will feel about that and need. I can tell anyone contemplating the introduction of new man or woman to their children that not discussing that with the children’s other parent is a VERY bad idea. Leave aside that they need to know so they can help your children adjust, it will almost certainly make your ongoing relationship with your fellow parent more difficult. OK, on an adult level, it’s none of their business but the reality is that, as parents of the same children, anything which impacts on those children is both your business.

The other side of the equation is to sit down with your new partner and talk to them about what living together is going to mean for any children involved. That ranges from the practical such as where they will all sleep to issues such as how you discipline children and what role you will each play in the lives of the other’s children. There’s a very long list of things to consider. Indeed there is an argument (as with pre-nups) that a mediation session to talk it all through can assist. Part of the discussion is about embracing the reality that the former partner will be a constant presence in your new life.

Crucially, do spare a thought in amongst the romance for how this may all feel to your children who are being asked to accept a new adult in a quasi parental role. They may well be ambivalent. They may not have adapted to parental separation. If you have been on your own for quite some time, they may regard the new person as an intruder in your team. Once the move has happened they will need to spend some time just with you as their parent, not always play happy new family. If you only see them every other weekend but are living with your new partner’s children, they will almost certainly have confused emotions about that.

I have known parents who have decided to postpone actually living with a new partner until after their children leave home. I’m far from advocating that. However there would be a better basis second time around if parents stopped and considered it all from their children’s point of view and discussed the possible pitfalls before embarking on life with a new partner. He or she has won your heart but it’s far from a given that that applies to your children as well. Bringing them onside is vital for them. It means as well that that new life has a stronger foundation.

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